Is F1’s Sense of Competition Overly-Endangering its Personnel?

Seeing as we have more than enough time between races at the moment, I felt it was a good time to get my two cents in on the fallout of Red Bull’s pit stop blunder in Germany.

At the heart of Formula one are not only fans, but personnel. Both dedicate their time and make a committment to the sport which, in turn, and in differing ways, makes Formula One the sport we love now. Those who operate FOM cameras, or detach and attach wheels to cars, or report on said wheel attachments/detachments, or just turn up to watch a race know that there is a certain level of risk they are undertaking in doing so. For all the precautions taken in the last 20 years to improve safety in our sport, there have been, and still are, an equal number of sporting innovations to counteract them.

Since the sport’s elimination of re-fuelling in 2010, one of the most highly contested fields of battle has become the pit lane. The search for that last hundredth of a second in a tire change can sometimes be the difference between coming out just enough ahead to stay in the lead, or not enough ahead to hold position. These are the fine lines the pit crews of Formula One tread. Any opportunities to reduce the time it takes to change tires, and they will be utilized. At what cost, though?

I won’t get into the details of the FIA’s reactions to the pitlane incident in Germany, because we all know by now that their remedies are merely for show, and offer no substantial or meaningful solution to an increasingly prominent issue. What I will talk about, though, is why it happened and why it doesn’t have to anymore.

I first want to offer my condolences to Paul Allen, the FOM cameraman who suffered a broken collarbone and ribs, as well as a concussion as a result of being struck by Mark Webber’s rouge tire. All the best for a speedy recovery.

Paul’s position as a cameraman means that he is in the nitty gritty of the pitlane action, putting his camera lens in places others may otherwise avoid. Why? Because he wants to. He is not being forcibly bused to the races, filming the action against his own free will. Paul is there because he wants to be, and sees the value in providing insight to the sport’s audience all over the world.

The accident in Germany did not have to happen. Everyone knows that, and everyone knows that merely removing media personnel from the pitlane is not going to stop tires from being fitted properly to cars. The FIA’s correlation between media presence and tire security is laughable, and I find it almost insulting that they think that is the type of effort that will ensure better safety in the sport. What are they going to do next? Remove the pit crews from the pitlane so they too can be out of reach from flying tires? One hopes not.

The problem I see is that the sport’s determination to make things take as little time as possible, has endangered those whose job it is to bring the sport to the rest of the world. The elusive 2 second pit stop is like the holy grail in contemporary F1, and ones journey to find it is of utmost importance. Has the sports need to reduce pitstop times clouded our judgement in terms of safety? One could argue that, for loose wheels have been much more prominent in the era of banned refueling.

I don’t remember exactly where I heard this idea, so if you read this and you were the one who said it, let me know. I heard the other day that mandatory 4-5 second pitstops could, and possibly should, be a solution to the problem we faced yet again in Germany. While that seems unlikely to be undertaken, one wonders how many rouge tires could be saved if a little precaution was taken during the pitstop.

While solutions need to be made, the problem must be looked at from another angle. Why did this particular incident in Germany spark so much debate over safety in the pit lane? Yes, the injury that resulted has something to do with it, which is exactly my point. Why must we wait for someone to get hurt before we implement common sense safety regulations? There have been several other identical incidents in the past few years that should have sparked this very debate: British GP 2011 when Button’s tire was fitted improperly, Chinese GP 2012 with Schumacher, and Brazilian GP 2012 with Charles Pic. All of these mishaps had the same likelihood of resulting in horrible injuries, like the ones Paul Allen suffered. Yet because no one was hurt, we left it alone, content with the fact that it was unlikely to happen all that much in the future. The mere likelihood of the situation happening again should have ignited debate over the best way to protect the sport’s personnel in the pit lane, yet nothing happened.

The FIA should know that its most recent bid to make the pit lane a safer place is ludicrous, because it doesn’t address the actual problem. It merely sidesteps the issue in a way that makes it look like an effort was made.

When Red Bull was fined 35,000 Euros, I hope they realized, like I do now, that that is a small price to pay when it comes to someone’s life.

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One thought on “Is F1’s Sense of Competition Overly-Endangering its Personnel?

  1. Pingback: It's An F1 Life | FIA’s “Solutions” Avoiding the Real Problems

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